In a.d. 520 in China, during the ninth month of the initial year of the Putong reign-period of the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, the first Patriarch of the Chan School, Venerable Bodhidharma, arrived in Canton by boat from India. He traveled to Jinling, which is modern Nanjing, and had an interview with Emperor Wu. But the two of them had a misunderstanding, and he left Jinling, heading north to Luoyang. En route, he passed by Dharma Master Shen-guang's (Holy Light) Sutra-lecture gathering. Since time allowed, the Patriarch stopped in to listen. He heard the Dharma Master's eloquence and appreciated that he could make celestial flowers fall from the sky and inspire the earth to send forth golden-hued lotuses. He recognized in Master Shenguang the capacity to be a vessel of the Dharma. Master Shenguang saw the Indian Patriarch Bodhidharma walk into his assembly, and he could not restrain a feeling of superiority and pride. When his lecture was finished, he caught the eye of the Patriarch.
Patriarch Bodhidharma asked him, "Excuse me, Dharma Master, what exactly are you doing here?"
Master Shenguang reflected, "This dark-skinned monk must certainly be a demon-king who's transformed to come slander the Triple Jewel. I had better put his Dharma-power to the test!" At that, he pulled out his iron recitation beads, which served as a suitable weapon for quelling demons, and swung them hard against the Patriarch Bodhidharma's face. The Patriarch was caught unprepared, and the sudden attack knocked out two of his front teeth. Bodhidharma was a sage who had realized the fruition of the spiritual path, and he reflected, "Whenever a sage's teeth fall to the ground, that place will have a drought for three years." Therefore, out of compassion, he swallowed the two teeth instead of spitting them out. This event was commemorated in the proverb, "One just swallows his loose teeth, blood and all." Bodhidharma said nothing, but simply turned on his heel and left the monastery. He stepped on a reed to ford the Yangtze River and went to Shaolin Monastery on Sung Mountain in Henan Province. There he sat facing a wall for nine years, contemplating the subtleties of Chan principles.
Meanwhile, Master Shenguang felt in rare high spirits, since he considered himself the victor. He had no idea that Patriarch Bodhidharma was cultivating the perfection of "patience under insult." As soon as Patriarch Bodhidharma departed, the Ghost of Impermanence arrived, and said to Master Shenguang, "Are you Shenguang?"
The ghost answered, "I'm under orders from King Yama to invite you to a tea party. King Yama wants to discuss with you how many Sutras you have lectured on, how many you have recited, and how many Sutras you haven't yet explained and recited."
At that, Master Shenguang was scared out of his wits; he knew he was at death's door. He pleaded with the ghost, "Who can put an end to birth and death, and escape King Yama's jurisdiction?"
The Ghost of Impermanence answered, "That bushy-bearded, dark-skinned monk whose two front teeth you just knocked out a moment ago." The answer sparked a feeling of deep regret in Master Shenguang, because he had lost his temper in ignorance and thereby driven away an enlightened sage.
He made a further request of the Ghost of Impermanence, "Would it be possible for me to go find that monk and learn how to put an end to birth and death?"
The Ghost of Impermanence answered sympathetically, "Very well, but do hurry a bit and get the business done and return so that I can turn in my duty-sheet. Otherwise I won't be able to cover for you."
Master Shenguang lost no time in pursuing Patriarch Bodhidharma, travelling by day and by night. He finally reached Sung Mountain and, looking from a distance, saw the Patriarch sitting in meditation facing a wall. Overwhelmed with joy, he rushed up to Patriarch Bodhidharma and bowed with deep reverence. He repented humbly, "Venerable One, please be compassionate and forgive your brash disciple. I didn't know you were a sage who has realized the fruition of the Path. Your disciple made a mistake. Won't you please confer on me the method for resolving the matter of birth and death?"
Patriarch Bodhidharma turned his head around to look at him, then resumed his meditation without saying a single word. Master Shenguang knelt before Patriarch Bodhidharma and did not rise. Thus he knelt for nine years.
Now as we meditate here, investigating Chan, our backs get sore and our legs start to hurt, and we feel we can't take it after only two hours have passed. We may indulge in idle thoughts of food, or something sweet to drink. To sum it up, we can't control the monkey-like thoughts or the "wild stallion of the mind." We'd like nothing better than to jump up and run out the door. Dharma Master Shenguang's sincere request for Dharma led him to forget himself in that search and inspired him to kneel for nine years. I doubt that any of you could kneel for even nine hours, much less nine years.
One day after heavy snow fell two feet deep, Master Shenguang was kneeling as usual in front of Patriarch Bodhidharma. The Patriarch looked up at him, and, impressed by his sincerity in seeking the Dharma, asked him, "What are you doing kneeling here?"
Master Shenguang replied, "I sincerely hope the Venerable One will be compassionate and transmit to me the method for getting free from King Yama."
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, "It's no simple matter to seek the Dharma. Wait until the snow falls red, and then I'll transmit it to you."
Master Shenguang reflected, "Shakyamuni Buddha, while culti-vating the Bodhisattva path in the past, gave up his life in exchange for only half a verse of Dharma." As soon as this thought occurred to him, another idea dawned, and seeing a precept knife hanging on the cliff wall, he seized it and slashed off his left arm. Blood gushed out like a fountain, staining the snow on the ground bright red. He scooped up a handful and took it to show Patriarch Bodhidharma and requested him to transmit the Dharma.
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, "Since you can cut off your own arm for the sake of the Dharma, your sincerity must be genuine." There-upon, he transmitted to Master Shenguang the method of "seeing the nature and becoming a Buddha," the method that points directly to the mind, the special transmission apart from the teachings, the Dharma that words cannot contain. He then changed Master Shen-guang's name to Huike (Wise and Able).
Master Huike said, "My mind is not at peace. Can the Master please quiet it for me?"
Patriarch Bodhidharma answered, "Fetch your mind, and I'll quiet it for you."
Master Huike thought this over for a long time and then said, "I've looked, but my mind cannot be gotten at anywhere."
Patriarch Bodhidharma replied, "I've already quieted it for you!"
Master Huike suddenly experienced a great awakening and became the Second Patriarch of the Chan School. Later, he transmitted the robe and bowl and the Mind Dharma to the Third Patriarch, Great Master Sengcan (Sangha Gem), who then passed it on to the Fourth Patriarch, Great Master Daoxin (Faith in the Path), who further passed it on to the Fifth Patriarch, the Great Master Hungren (Vast Patience). Then it was transmitted to the Sixth Patriarch, the Great Master Huineng (Kind and Capable). At that point, the Chan School divided into two regional groups. It was represented in the North by Venerable Shenxiu (Divine Talent). He advocated "sweeping away the dust and observing the remaining purity," and this was called "the gradual enlightenment method." He wrote the verse:
The body is a Bodhi-tree,
The mind a mirror-stand bright.
Time and again wipe it clean;
Let no dust alight.
The Southern School's representative was Great Master Huineng, who advocated immediate awakening, and this was called "the sudden enlightenment method." His verse says:
Originally there is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor any mirror-stand bright.
Originally there is nothing at all.
Where could the dust alight?
The Southern School later divided into five sects: the Weiyang, the Linji, the Caodong, the Yunmen, and the Fayen.
The Venerable Bodhidharma wrote a verse about this that goes,
My purpose in coming to this land,
Was to transmit the Dharma and rescue confused beings.
One flower blossoms with five petals,
And the fruit will come ripe all by itself.
And as it turned out, when the Sixth Patriarch's era came, the School did divide into five sects. The Dharma was transmitted in China from generation to generation, and now it has come to America. No one has to kneel to request it, however. All you need to do is to cultivate sincerely, and the essential teachings of this Dharma can be yours.
A talk given in December, 1980, during a Chan session